By Fred L. Borch III
Prior to World War I, there were no enlisted men1 in the Judge Advocate General’s Department (JAGD), as the Corps was then known. Given the small size of the JAGD—there were a total of seventeen uniformed lawyers in the Army in 1916—the War Department no doubt felt that any necessary clerical work could be done by civilian employees and that enlisted soldiers should be utilized elsewhere. The rapid expansion of the U.S. Army after April 1917, however, combined with the realization that it would be difficult to find civilians willing to deploy with Army lawyers on combat operations overseas, caused the War Department to authorize “enlisted personnel” in the JAGD for the first time. Edward G. Toomey, who was appointed “Regimental Sergeant Major” in May 1918, was one of the first to wear stripes on his sleeves. This is his story.
Born in Deer Lodge, Montana, on 12 September 1892, Edmond Galbraith Toomey attended public schools in Deer Lodge and Pomona, California. In 1911, he entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison, from which he received an undergraduate degree in 1913. He then entered Wisconsin’s law school.2 After graduating in June 1916, Toomey returned to Montana, where he joined the law firm of Galen and Mettler. After eighteen months as an associate, Toomey became a partner in the firm, which was renamed Galen, Mettler and Toomey.3
After the United States declared war on the Central Powers in April 1917, Toomey’s law partner, Albert Galen, decided that he wanted to serve as an Army lawyer. Galen had previously served as Montana’s Attorney General, having practiced the law for more than twenty years. Consequently, it was not a surprise when Galen obtained a commission as a Reserve major in the JAGD and was ordered to active duty with the 8th Division in California.4
Edmond Toomey also wanted to serve in the active-duty Army. But unlike Galen, Toomey had less than two years as a lawyer. There is some dispute about whether Toomey applied to become an judge advocate at the same time that Galen applied. Assuming that Toomey did apply, his lack of experience meant he was simply not competitive. After all, some 5,000 civilian lawyers from every state in the Union applied for roughly 400 judge advocate positions—which meant that the JAGD could afford to be very selective in deciding who would be a judge advocate in World War I.5 But Edmond Toomey wanted to serve and, when the War Department announced in March 1918 that “enlisted personnel” were now authorized for the JAGD, Toomey saw a way into the Army and the JAGD—as a noncommissioned officer (NCO).6
On 22 April 1918, the Army’s Adjutant General sent the following telegraph to the Lewis and Clark County, Montana, draft board: “Defective vision Edmond G. Toomey is waived. If inducted send him to Camp Fremont, Palo Alto, California.” Toomey was “voluntarily inducted” the following day and reported to the commanding general, 8th Division, Camp Fremont, on 29 April. He received an assignment to the Office of the Judge Advocate—headed by Major (MAJ) Galen. Toomey also received an appointment as “Regimental Sergeant Major (RSGM), Judge Advocate General’s Department.”7 While he now held the senior most NCO rank in the U.S. Army, Toomey was certainly not making the money that he made as an attorney in Montana: his military pay was $51 a month. But then again, pay for an Army private was $30 a month, so RSGM Toomey was making more than most of his fellow Soldiers.8
In August 1918, RSGM Toomey—along with the 7,000 soldiers of the 8th Division—arrived in Vladivostok, Siberia, as part of the American Expeditionary Force-Siberia (AEF-Siberia). Under the command of Major General William S. Graves, the Americans, along with the Japanese, British, Czechoslovakian, and French contingents also in Siberia, were charged with guarding the Trans-Siberian Railroad. While officially neutral in the ongoing struggle between the Bolshevik and non-Communist White Russian forces in Siberia, many of the American Soldiers hoped for a non-Communist victory.9
Between August 1918 and May 1919, when he returned to American soil, RSGM Toomey assisted MAJ Galen in handling all legal matters for the American forces. In their offices located at No. 38, Svetlanskaya Street, Vladivostok, Toomey and Galen reviewed the records of trial of every single general and special court-martial. It was a considerable task: between September and December 1918 alone, more than 750 Soldiers were prosecuted, including 207 for being absent without leave and 248 for disobeying orders. Officers also got in trouble, with two being court-martialed for drunkenness “under such circumstances as to bring discredit upon the service.”10
Toomey also assisted in the investigation and adjudication of claims made against the United States, which meant that Russians whose property had been damaged by American military personnel were able to obtain compensation. He also assisted MAJ Galen in determining whether a large number of German and Austro-Hungarian soldiers whom the Russians had shipped to Siberia were entitled to prisoner of war status.11
Edmond Toomey proved to be a valuable asset in AEF-Siberia legal operations. As MAJ Galen later wrote:
Regimental Sergeant Major Toomey accompanied me here [in Siberia] and, since the establishment of this Headquarters, has been detailed to my office. In reality, he has acted in the capacity of an assistant, and his work has been faithful and meritorious. Without him it would not have been possible for me to have conducted my office with so limited an office force.”12
After receiving his discharge from the Army, Edmond Toomey had a successful career in Montana. He practiced law in Helena and served as legal counsel for Montana Governors Samuel V. Stewart (1913-1921), Joseph M. Dixon (1921-1925) and John E. Erickson (1925-1933). He also was the top lawyer for the Montana Railroad and Public Service Commission. Toomey also was active in Montana politics, as he served four terms in the Montana Legislative Assembly.13
Long after Edmond Toomey had taken off his uniform, and when the howling winds, bitter cold, and long winter nights of Siberia were a fading memory, Toomey stayed engaged with the Army. During the administration of Harry S. Truman, he served as Montana’s Civilian Aide to Secretary of the Army, Frank Pace. These aides are “business and community leaders appointed by the Secretary to advise and support Army leaders across the country.”14 Toomey’s appointment reflects that he was held in high regard by the Department of the Army, as this is a prestigious position.15
Edmond G. Toomey died in his law office on 7 September 1960. He was “just short of his 68th birthday.”16 TAL
Mr. Borch is the Regimental Historian, Archivist, and Professor of Legal History and Leadership at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
1. Only men were permitted to enlist in the Army prior to World War I; Congress did not authorize military status for women until 1 September 1943, when it established the Women’s Army Corps. War Dept., Gen. Order No. 27, para. XII (22 Mar. 1918).
2. Questionnaire for the Judge Advocates Record of the War, Edmond G. Toomey, Record Group (RG) 153, entry 45 (on file with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, MD).
4. Questionnaire for the Judge Advocates Record of the War, Albert J. Galen, RG 153, entry 45 (on file with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in College Park, MD).
5. Fred L. Borch, Judge Advocates in the Great War 1917-1922, at 16 (2021).
6. War Dept., Gen. Order No. 27, para. XII (22 Mar. 1918).
7. Toomey, supra note 2.
8. Borch, supra note 5, at 2. Major Galen, on the other hand, would have been making $275 a month. Thomas Goering, Military Pay Chart 1908-1919, Navy CyberSpace, https://www.navycs.com/charts/1908-military-pay-chart.html (last visited Jan. 20, 2023).
9. For more on the American military presence in Siberia, see Andrew J. Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 1860-1941, at 208-218 (1998). See also William S. Graves, America’s Siberian Adventure (1931).
10. Fred L. Borch III, Bolsheviks, Polar Bears, and Military Law: The Experiences of Army Lawyers in North Russia and Siberia in World War I, 30 Prologue 181, 187 (1998).
11. Id. at 189.
12. Toomey, supra note 2.
13. Orbis Cascade Alliance, Edmond G. Toomey Papers, 19071961, Archives w., https://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:80444/xv77679#top (last visited Jan. 9, 2023).
14. Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army, U.S. Army, https://casacac.army.mil/Pages/AboutUs.aspx (last visited Jan. 9, 2023).
15. Today, men and women who agree to serve as civilian aides do so without salary or benefits but are afforded the protocol status of a lieutenant general. Id.
16. Orbis Cascade Alliance, supra note 13